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July 28, 2010

Selling Parking Garages in Pittsburgh : Me, Too!

One of Pittsburgh's current imbroglios is the impending sale or long-term lease of Pittsburgh's parking garages. Luke'n'at wants to lease the garages to corporations who will run them as long-term moneymakers in return for a short-term cash payment to the city. This would alleviate some of the political pressure on Pittsburgh politicians, but probably not significantly address the underlying financial issues.

Let's think this through with our "look back™" glasses. The original idea behind garages was to have parking so people could easily do business. The original idea behind meters was to keep a churning supply of short-term parking available for people using local businesses, rather than letting employees and neighbors block the prime spots. Cities once operated garages and parking meters as a public good. Are you old enough to remember that?

The garages and meters have become an industry in their own right, and the original concept is lost. Now the garages and meters exist to take a certain amount of money out of the population for the city's budget, and that money turns parking into a power center with its own priorities, profits, bureaucracy, jobs, and followers. When Luke'n'at sells the garages, the city budget gets a one-time windfall and a long-term income stream, and the taxpayers pay a lot more money over time. People pay more money, government takes in more money- how is that not a tax increase?

And, of course, a corporation gets to be the middleman, diddling the public and taking their share of every dollar. The politicians will get to blame the corporations and save face. The great perversion is that parking (which was once a public good marshalled for local economic benefits) will become overpriced, which will cause unintended consequences that are exactly the opposite of the original intent. All those pennies come from somewhere.

I have a garage, and I've got a near-term cash-flow that's constraining my style a bit. I'm thinking of selling or leasing my garage. I mean, if all those smart people in the city think it's a good financial move, why shouldn't I get in on it?

There's going to be a few problems in the transition. I'm going to have to get all my stuff out of the garage. I'm going to have to implement some sort of Smart-Parking-App on my iPad to track my leasing payments and all that money that'll be rolling in. This would be a great time for somebody from CMU to develop a personal EasyPass reader, so that the sub-contractor could easily charge cars as they come and go. I'll need to it be compatible with Windows 98, please. Just saying.

There's probably an opportunity for extra value-added (and I'm always looking for value-added). It's possible that I could provide upscale coffee beverages for parking clients, let them use my WiFi, sell them maps of the color belts, things like that. I could probably write off my snow blower as an expense.

It's a silly example, but not without intent. If it doesn't make sense, if it's not pragmatic for you to lease out your garage, how does it make sense for the city to lease out it's garages? Where does the supposed new money come from?

The cost will be born by the public, and the pain will be felt by the communities and small business. The only money that will move in this transaction is from the developers and wannabees to the politicians. Which brings us full circle to Luke'n'at.


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